I am totally screwed- time to rethink my backup strategy


Like the title says I am totally screwed and the day it happened started just like any other day.  The events that have me in a pickle were actually a sequence of events (like they usually are) that had to happen in just a certain way in a specific order.  They did and this is my story.

It was last Saturday and I was heading out the door to my stepson’s baseball game when I decided to start a manual backup of my document directory tree.  I have been using a manual system for years using the freeware copy tool Karen’s Replicator.  I’m pretty good about remembering to back up my files and the system has always worked well for me.  Karen’s Replicator is nothing fancy, it can copy (or replicate) whole directory trees through the use of “jobs”, predefined copy tasks.  I like Replicator because it’s faster than anything I’ve seen anywhere.  So on my way out the door I start Replicator and click on the copy job to send my document tree to the external hard drive.  I made sure it started up and headed out to the ballpark.

When I returned home that night I glanced at the Replicator screen, made sure the job finished without errors and shut it down.  All was well until late Sunday night when I was going through my notes in OneNote to get ready for the new week.  This week is going to be action-packed for me since I’m heading to Redmond next weekend and will be there all next week.

As I started spinning through my OneNote project notebooks something didn’t seem right and the more I looked into it the greater the uneasiness I was beginning to feel.  My whole workday revolves around the notes I take in OneNote, each project is its own section with daily notes in the tabs down the right of the OneNote screen.  The first project I checked seemed to have some note pages missing that I had taken the week before.  As did the second, third, and so on.  At this point I must have been positively green to match how ill I was beginning to feel.  I went to the most active projects I have and determined that I had NO notes more recent than two weeks ago.  A quick mental assessment told me that the notes from what is likely 30 – 40 critical meetings are just. Flat. Not. There.

The sinking feeling in my stomach is now threatening to shoot up my throat.  How could I possibly be missing all of my recent notes?  These notes are going to be impossible to recreate and all that valuable reference material is out the window.  Wait, I just did a backup the day before so all is saved.  I’ll just restore it back and be good to go.  Boy, that was close.

I open up Replicator and just before clicking on the job that copies the tree from the external hard drive to the Fujitsu a horrible thought crosses my mind.  What if I had clicked on the wrong Replicator job in my haste to leave for the ball game?  I’m referring to the copy job that copies files the other way.  That still shouldn’t wipe me out as the backed up files on my external drive are two weeks older than the Fujitsu drive so even if I had made that stupid mistake Replicator wouldn’t overwrite the newer files.  Or would it?  I open up the settings for the job that copies from the external to the Fujitsu drive and look at the details.  See, just like I thought, the settings say to only copy a file if its last modified date was newer than the target and the file size has changed.  I know, let’s look at the copy log from the job in question.

Sure enough, it verifies that I clicked the wrong job and it copied the entire document tree the wrong way.  But all of my OneNote files on the Fujitsu (target) drive were NEWER than the external (source) drive so why would it replace them?  I dig into the log and there it is in plain sight– files will be replaced if the source file is NEWER than the target OR, and that’s the big word here, OR if the file sizes are different, which almost all of my note files were.  So Replicator overwrote all of my good note (newer) files with the old ones, just like I told it to.  I am so sick at this point I pack it all in and went to bed.  I’ll deal with this tomorrow (now today).

So that’s what I’ve been doing today in addition to the big workload I already have this week.  I will likely never recreate those notes, I’ll just have to add what I can remember to new notes for the individual projects.  This has got me thinking long and hard about backup strategies.  What I think I need is a backup routine that saves each backup to a new version so I can always go back one or two versions as needed.  Maybe I should look into online backup solutions, that way I can even restore files remotely if necessary.  All of you backup gurus, what do you recommend?  I’ve looked at the Vista backup and it doesn’t seem to offer much user control, something that I think I need.  So how about it, what do you do and why do you think it would work for me?


C to the J

Good ideas here and there. I still think Outlook Track-It is the best. I needed followup reminders, and this toolbar gave me just that. Has anyone found anything better? I have not.


I use FolderShare to keep backups of my important documents as well, and highly recommend it. I feel it’s one of the best solutions if you’re able to install it in more than one place, as John’s unfortunate story or a bad fire will defeat most backup solutions. I’m still based off of multiple desktops and have been working on a mobile solution though, which is why I follow your writings. :)


I have a simple but effective backup strategy. I use WinZip and set up backup “jobs” for My Documents, email directories, etc. The jobs nicely automate the process. I back up once a week to an external hard drive and once a month to a DVD. Haven’t had any problems (yet!)

Nicholas Lee

Something like Alfresco running locally or remotely with and Windows Briefcase might work. Automatically version control is the key to easy backups for documents.

Currently I keep all my documents in subversion, but I’m planning to move to Alfresco shortly.

Dave Gray

JK, ouch. I can relate, though. My solution is a 250GB Maxtor one-touch USB external, and running the included Dantz Retrospect HD software. It runs automatically at 3am every night, lays down new copies every time, and I’ve recovered from it more than once. It’s the most elegant solution I’ve ever had, and it’s truly “set it and forget it”. I’ve enthusiastically recommended this setup from the beginning to anyone who asks.

Alexander Turcic

James, sorry to hear about your nightmare. It must have been something in the air because three days ago I accidentally destroyed my entire backup archive as well. I wanted to clone a system partition using Acronis Workstation; however, the IDE cables of my disks weren’t correctly configured, causing Acronis to write the new partition simultaneously to all disks that were attached to the cable. Although I hit cancel five seconds later it was already too late: the partition tables were destroyed, leaving a hard drive behind with a bunch of useless unconnected bytes. Bummer.

Andrew Ferguson

I’ve been using the free version of Mozy for a few months and it’s AWESOME. It’s quick, very secure (448 bit BlowFish with my own key), and it has 30 day versioned copies. Interestingly enough, I found out about Mozy reading *your* website (granted, it was Kevin who wrote the article, but still). We wrote about it on STPC a couple weeks back (http://studenttabletpc.com/2007/02/mozy_online_backup.html).


OneNote should be a snap for this, James. I don’t know how the file structure works in Vista, but OneNote puts two recent backups in Documents and Settings, Your Name, Local Settings, Application Data, Microsoft, OneNote, 12.0, Backup. The obvious place to look!

Also, instead of backing up the OneNote files, OneNote 2007 works great if you close all your notebooks from your computer, move them to the external hard disk, and then from the computer open them, notebook by notebook, on the external drive location. You can leave the files on the hard disk at home, in a separate tree from what you back up. Then WHENEVER you plug in the external drive and open OneNote, it syncs all the folders you have opened on that computer and updates everything. You carry with you everything, but it thinks the notebooks are located on the external hard drive, and always syncs to it when you have it hooked up and OneNote open.

Bon chance!

When you travel, you have full copies of them with you, but then you sync to the hard drive. But keep it separate from the copying trees you run. I was confused by this at first, but it’s seriously better. Then you can open the same notebooks with another computer, or only a few (personal ones I don’t open on my desktop at work), and leave them on the external hard disk. I do this where the external hard disk is a flash drive or mini drive, and keep three computers synced, but all I have to do is plug in the drive, and open OneNote.

Confusing when I was used to copying files over, but much more useful as it syncs automattically when you just open the program.

Evan Easton

As Jack points out, OneNote maintains backups. By default it’s once a day, but you can configure how frequently it’ll do them. At the very least, try opening your backups by using File->Open Backup. OneNote will show you the folder tree of the backups and for any section it will show dates next to the file name.

Pick the latest copy available, before the errant restore from disk. And then manually copy the sections back over into the right places. It’s a bit labor intensive, but a lot better than losing the data.

Next, configure backups in the options to occur more frequently.

Last, change your backup strategy so that a restore is something you’re not going to accidentally do. I don’t know anything about Replicator, but move those restore copy jobs miles away from the backup jobs.

Chris Magnusson

It looks like you already got yourself out of this situation, but I am using Handy Backup with Windows Vista and Outlook 2007. So, yes, it does work with the two of them, just not as neatly as I had hoped it would – every time I reboot, the Handy Backup tray launcher does the Vista “Cancel or Allow” thing.

John Gibson

Windows Home Server will be the nirvana solution for this type of issue in the future.

James Kendrick

Ryan, you are my new best friend! I’m writing a followup now that explains how I recovered abso-freaking-lutely everything using the shadow copies in Vista! You’re my hero! :)

I still need a good backup solution, though.


save everything to USB drive. Or email yourself. Gmail has over 2 gigs of storage.

sorry dude.


This is when my brother would say to me “See, I told you so. I use post it notes and they work fine for me”.

This is probably when you wish you did have a few Post-it notes James!

Seriously, I feel the frustration but still being relatively new to the tablet (and not spending enough time learning) is there not a backup solution in OneNote? I thought Microsoft Office OneNote 2003 automatically created backup files for you on a daily basis(so I assume 2007 does the same). Given a problem similar to what you had, you could restore a section that has been lost. (http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/onenote/HP011171681033.aspx)

Of course I realize that you certainly are aware of this so clearly I am missing an importasnt piece. I will say that “stuff” that is too valuable for me to lose I save on a thumb drive as an extra step … I have lost too much too often.


kinda an obvious shot in the dark here, but any windows restore points set?


Sorry to hear it, JK. I’m hoping against hope that you were on Vista and have Shadow copies enabled (and hoping hoping hoping that they worked) – I haven’t used the feature myself, but you might try.

Right-click on an affected file->Properties.
The last tab across the top should be “Previous Versions”
Hope that helps. Feel free to e-mail me privately if I can help otherwise.

feralboy – might be worthwhile to note that in the case of a file getting damaged deleted on one computer – that might mean that all the other sync nodes in foldershare also lose the file / get corrupted. But if you use it with mobile computers that aren’t always on – the recovery is glorious!

Mike Strock

What about using Microsoft’s Home Server product, which is in public beta? Might do exactly what you need and might save you from future disasters like this. I feel for you, I really do. I’m considering getting one of these devices when they come out (I don’t have the spare hardware to run the beta at the moment)….


Oh man, I feel for you. My Toshiba has been in the shop for warranty repair for over 2 weeks and I’m stuck because there are files on that machine that weren’t backed up before it went south. And I need those files now.

I’ve used Foldershare, which I found quite handy, because every time you press Save, if you are online, the changes are propagated to all your linked machines.

But ever since I loaded up Vista RC2 on the desktop, I haven’t been using FS. Rather than get it working again on RC2, I chose to wait for my free copy of Ultimate to arrive. Not smart. Not smart at all. Anyway, I highly recommend Foldershare.

John Hancock

I can certainly commiserate. I had two laptops and would backup one to the other. Occasionally I would take a backup to some other device – depending on what was handy at the time.

Unfortunately thieves stole both laptops – and yes they were secured with cables. The M200 was secured to the multi dock which they destroyed and they trashed the house to find the key for the other one. And of course it has been about a year and a half since I backed up to other than the two laptops.

We are indeed authors of our own destiny :)


James, bummer of bummers … I had something like that happen before and have gone to a really automatic system … I use MirrorFolder from http://www.techsoftpl.com/backup/ it is like a raid backup to a external hard drive .. I have it set for real time mirroring so whatever I do at my docking station is completely backed in real time … when I go mobile, I will usually use google docs or spreadsheets, but whenever I come back it will synch up for me … I have since had a hardware problem and when I was up and running, I had all my data there ready to go … works for me …


I use mozy, both the free (2GB max) and the pay (unlimited for $5/month) on two different computers. My main computer is a tablet that is sync’d to a desktop/server with Microsoft’s foldershare. I use Mozy free on the tablet to pick up outlook as foldershare doesn’t deal with the locked pst very well. The desktop stores backups of both my tablet as well as my wife’s laptop, while also backing up full copies of everything (80GB+) to Mozy. Everything is totally automatic and I haven’t thought about the system in months. Plus, Mozy provides me with 30 day versioning, which the local data on my desktop doesn’t keep.

James Kendrick

Chris, does this work with Vista/ Outlook 2007? It doesn’t appear to on their web site.

arebelspy, I’ll likely never recover all of the information unless it’s the hard way. :(


Sorry James. :(

Stories like this make me queasy. Good luck remembering what you can, and hopefully it won’t cost you too much.


Chris Magnusson

Personally, I use Handy Backup with the Outlook plugin – http://www.handybackup.com. Just don’t believe them when they say that their latest update was November 23, 2005. My Help | About says that I’m running a version from February 2 of this year.

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